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Brand Wagon

Star-rise in Kerala

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Big brands in the state are signing on non-native celebs as brand ambassadors or inviting them for splashy launches.

Despite having jewellery showrooms in the Gulf and across Kerala, the Chemmanur group was not a name that was famous in India. But the recent opening of their jewellery showroom and a new airline in Kannur created ripples in the business and sporting fraternities. The reason: Boby Chemmanur, chairman of the group, did something neither Ambani or Birla had done. He brought the God of Football, Diego Maradona, to God's Own Country to open his new ventures. For both, it was a win-win situation. Maradona no longer plays football and his coaching stints with the Argentinian national team and the Dubai-based Al Wasl club ended in failures. His attempt to coach an English Premier League side hasn't borne fruit as yet and the only significant job he has now is that of Dubai's sports ambassador. For Boby Chemmanur and his group, no other personality could have given them the mileage and publicity that Maradona gave them in the last one week. "I knew the people of Kerala are crazy about football. Maradona is a living legend. And there was no bigger celebrity I could think of than Maradona to launch our new ventures. His arrival in Kerala made national headlines, " says Boby, explaining the rationale behind bringing the footballer to Kerala. A year ago, a charming Shah Rukh Khan sprang on the top of a Mercedes Benz, broke into an impromptu jig and set off a frenzy in Kochi. The large gathering around him, who did not speak his language, cheered and clapped. "When Shah Rukh was invited for our inauguration, we never thought he would dance. His move was surprising for us. He was overwhelmed by the crowd and just started dancing, " says Dev, the general manager for Emmanuval Silks. Increasingly, Kerala-based brands are inviting non-Kerala stars - both Indian and international - for new launches and inaugurations. And those events are drawing as much crowd as those graced by the native stars. If the native stars please people, the non-Malayali stars entertain them too. For instance, when Shreya Ghoshal came to inaugurate a Joyalukkas jewellery showroom in Kochi, she was asked to sing. She smiled and sang not Hindi hits, but Malayalam songs with an inimitable diction.

Kalyan Jewellers recently invited Aishwarya Rai for the inauguration of a Kochi jewellery showroom. She hasn't acted in a film for almost a year and many wondered why she was chosen. But when the actress came, there was chaos all around. It was her first public appearance after she had given birth to a baby. She was glowing, smiling and a little plump and the gathering went crazy.

It's not just entertainment that draws the brands towards non-Malayali stars. Many of these brands like Kalyan and Joyalukkas are spread all over the country, and faces like Madhavan, Shreya Ghoshal and Aishwarya give them a pan-Indian image. "We want to be known all over the country and Bollywood stars ensure acceptability and reach, " says a marketing official with Joyalukkas.

Bringing stars to Kerala is not easy. Emmanuval had negotiate for six months before it could ensure Shah Rukh's presence. "But it was really worth the wait. Our brand name was recognised and accepted globally and he played a big role in that, " says Dev.

Kalyan Jelwellers waited for one-and-a-half years before Aishwarya agreed to be its brand ambassador. "The reason is that the stars study the brands keenly. They assess our growth and reach and only then agree to associate with us. We opted for Aishwarya because we endorse our brand through the concept of legacy, and the Bachchan family is known for its legacy, " says Kalyanaraman, chairman and managing director, Kalyan Jewellers.

There is a lot of money involved but the amount is often fiercely guarded. Though Boby is not willing to reveal the amount he had to pay Maradona for his Kerala trip, insiders say he paid an amount between Rs 1. 50 crore and Rs2 crore.

According to sources, Shah Rukh's visit to Kochi cost Emmanuval Silks not less than Rs 2 crore. Kalyan Silks and Joyalukkas group have signed long-term contracts with the stars who have become their brand ambassadors, and this makes it easier to fly them down for down for special occasions.

But the presence of A-list stars isn't a surefire formula for success. "I believe there is no direct relation between stars and sales. People come to watch them and they needn't buy from our shops, " says Kalyanaraman. So why splurge on them? "It leads to publicity and creates brand connectivity. When stars from Bollywood come to Kerala, the media will naturally be interested. So we manage to establish a connect for our brand, " he explains.
For this reason, the brands are extremely choosy about the stars. "We don't go for everyone. We choose only those stars who jell well with us. All these stars whom we associate with are incredibly professional. If they say that they will reach at 7 pm, we can be sure that they will, " the Joyalukkas marketing official says.

In order for the association to work, the brands and the stars have to foster an amicable relationship. "We choose stars who can easily connect to the people in every way. To make this happen, we have to give space to each other and that's the way it works, " says Kalyanaraman.

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